Deposit Return Systems

Last modified: March 23, 2019
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About the BEAR/Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project Report
Understanding Beverage Container Recycling:
A Value Chain Assessment

Will 2002 be remembered as the year that industry and environmentalists came together and produced a report that broke through long standing biases and allowed cost-effective new and expanded deposit systems to be implemented? This may be the outcome of the BEAR/Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project report!

We believe this report is historic. It gives environmentalists, elected officials and policymakers the data they need - from unimpeachable sources - to close the case for deposits. The complete report is available at[off-site]


  • it was produced under the watchful eyes of both the beverage industry and environmentalists (see 'Who Produced the Report,' below)
  • the data were gathered by leading researchers who often work for the beverage industry.
  • it provides a fact-based foundation on which to develop a beverage container recycling system that will double the current beverage container recycling rate to 80% and be cost-efficient for the beverage industry.


  • it draws attention to the problem of declining beverage container recycling rates and increased wasting.
  • it provides hard numbers that confirm the superior performance of deposit/return programs, over curbside recycling and drop-off collection.
  • it identifies revenues that can offset the cost of deposit programs: money from the sale of the used bottles and cans and deposit money left in the system by consumers who choose not to return their containers for refunds (unredeemed deposits)
  • it shows how when these revenues are factored in, deposit programs are less costly than curbside programs -- at no cost to local taxpayers.
  • it shows that some deposit programs have discovered cost-saving features that increase efficiency and reduce costs over traditional deposit programs (e.g. eliminate sorting by brand through a common fund, open up the system to other return centers besides retail stores, use automated reverse vending machines for container returns.)


  • the report confirms the effectiveness of your program, showing how much more effective it is than curbside programs or drop-off collection;
  • the report points the way to possible 'tweaking' that could be done if necessary to make the program less costly to the beverage industry


  • the report shows how much better you could be doing: up to 80% recycling rather than your current recovery
  • the report suggests that your timing is good: your state can now benefit from new information to design a program that is both effective and economical to operate


Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (BEAR) was formed nearly 2 years ago by businesses who needed more PET bottles to use in manufacturing carpet and environmentalists who wanted to reduce the waste of beverage containers. BEAR made a commitment to determine strategies capable of achieving 80% recovery of beverage containers for recycling.

In May of 2001, BEAR became a project of Global Green USA, a group affiliated with Michail Gorbachev's Green Cross International. The first stage in BEAR's work was the Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project (MSRP): an effort to use a fact-based process to achieve consensus on strategies to achieve BEAR's goal of 80% container recycling.

The MSRP Task Force included Coca-Cola North America; their plastic bottle making cooperative, Southeastern Container; Waste Management, Inc.; Beaulieu of America (maker of carpet with recycled PET plastic bottles); Tomra North America (maker of reverse vending machines); and the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance. Environmentalists were represented by Grassroots Recycling Network and the Container Recycling Institute.

The MSRP retained a team of leading consultants to carry out research that was ultimately published in the Understanding Beverage Container Recycling report. The authors are: R.W. Beck (lead consultant group), Franklin & Associates , Tellus Institute, and Sound Resource Management.


Beverage container recycling rates in the U.S. are down, wasting is up.

  • 78 billion beverage containers (277 per capita) recycled in 1999
  • 114 billion beverage cans and bottles (407 per capita) not recycled in 1999
  • only 41% of containers sold are recycled, the rest are wasted.

Beverage container recycling has environmental benefits.

  • Avoided greenhouse gas emissions
  • Energy savings
  • Avoided landfill space

Deposit systems get the best results.

  • Deposits: 422 containers per capita recycled in the 10 deposit states,
                   373 containers per capita recycled in California
  • Curbside:127 containers per capita recycled in the 40 non-deposit states
  • Residential drop-offs: 31 containers recycled per capita in non-deposit states

Beverage container recovery has a net cost that must be covered by some type of funding mechanism.

  • Deposit programs (including California): funded by producers and consumers
  • Curbside programs: funded by local governments and taxpayers

Net costs per container recovered in 1999 (including revenue from sale of scrap material)

  • Traditional Deposit Programs: 2.21 cents
  • California Deposit Program: 0.55 cents
  • Curbside Programs: 1.72 cents
  • Residential Drop-Off Programs: 0.30 cents

When unredeemed deposits are used to cover costs in deposit programs, net costs are as follows:

  • Traditional Deposit Programs: 0.80 cents
  • California Deposit Programs: (0.43) cents (profit)
  • Curbside Programs: 1.72 cents
  • Residential Drop-Off Programs: 0.30 cents


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